Peyer, Bernhard

views updated


(b. Schaffhausen, Switzerland, 25 July 1885; d Zurich, Switzerland, 23 February 1963)


Peyer was the son of Bernhard Peyer, a manufacturer, and Sophie Frey. In the spring of 1905 he completed his classical education at Schaffhausen. While still in secondary school, he became acquainted with the geologist Ferdinand Schalch, who was doing fieldwork in the Schaffhausen area. There had been scientists in his family for many years, the most notable being the anatomist Johann Conrad Peyer (1653-1712).

In the autumn of 1905, Peyer began his studies in general natural sciences at Tübingen, where he spent three semesters. He continued his studies in Munich, where he attended lectures on zoology given by Richard von Hertwig and on paleontology by Ferdinand Broili and Ernst Stromer von Reichenbach. In the autumn of 1907 Peyer matriculated at the University of Zurich, where he wrote his dissertation, “Die Entwicklung des Schädelskeletes von Vipera aspis”, under the guidance of Arnold Lang, a student of the zoologist Ernst Haeckel. Peyer took part in several expeditions to Rovigno, Italy (1912), England (with Schalch, 1907), and South America (with the anatomist Hans Bluntschli, 1912-1913). The last gave him the opportunity to study and collect rich material of anthropoid monkeys.

In 1918 Peyer became qualified as Privatdozent. His inaugural lecture, “Wesen und Ziele der Paläontologie”, represented the beginning of systematic paleontological research at the Zoollgical Institute in Zurich. The title of hs inaugural dissertation was “Ueber die Flossenstacheln der Welse und Panzerwelse, sowie der Karpfen”. This interest in fossil vertebrates was connected with the beginning of systematic excavations, in 1924, of Middle Triassic strata of Monte San Giorgio in southern Switzerland, which yielded the most comprehensive vertebrate fauna then known. Several excavations were organized by Peyer (supported by the Georges and Antoine Claraz Foundation and the director of the Zoological Institute. Karl Hescheler). The most important records of vertebrates were described in monographs by Peyer and published especially in the Schweizerische paläontologische Abhandhurgen.

Besides his work in southern Switzerland, Peyer did research on the evolution of mammals. According to the dates of the geological fieldwork of Schalch in the Klettgau region (northern Switzerland), in 1942 Peyer discovered in Upper Triassic layers at Hallau, about seventy teeth of Primitive mammals and mammal-like reptiles.

In recognition of his scientific work, Peyer was an honorary member of a great many natural science societies, including the Naturforschende Gesellschaft Schaffhausen (1932), and Basel (1953), and the Kaiserlich Leopoldinisch-Carolinische Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher in Halle.

In 1926 Peyer married Hildegard Amsler; they had five children. The first notable record (excavation in 1924) of a new placodont was named after her, Cyamodus hildegardis, and described in 1931.

In 1930 Peyer was appointed associate professor, in 1939 director of the Museum of Zoology and Anthropology at the University of Zurich (a post he held until his retirement), and in 1943 full professor at the University of Zurich. He retired in 1955. Peyer was deeply interested in the history of dentition. About 1960 he began the preparation of a volume on comparative odontology that was published posthumously. Besides his extensive paleontological research, Peyer produced numerous publications on the history of medicine and biology. Peyer died after a long illness. His work was recognized in 1967 by the community of Meride, where he had lived during the excavations at Monte San Giorgio, by the naming of a street for him.


I. Original Works. A complete bibliography of Peyer’s works can be found in the obituary by H.C. Peyer (see below).

II. Secondary Literature. Obituaries of Peyer include H. Fischer, “Bernhard Peyer 1885-1963”, in Gesnerus, 20 (1963), 179, and “Bernhard Peyer (1885-1963)”, in Vierteljahrsschrift der Naturforshenden Gesellschaft Zürich108 (1963), 467; H.C. Peyer, “Prof. Dr. Bernhard Peyer 1885-1963”, in Verhandlungen der schweizerischen Naturforscher Gesellschaft (1963), 242, with bibliography by E. Kuhn-Schnyder; J. Piveteau, “Notice nécrologique sur Bernhard Peyer”, in Actes des sciences (1963), 4087; and Rainer Zangerl, “Bernhard Peyer, 1885-1963”, in News Bulletin, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, no. 68 (1963).

Rudolf Schlatter